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The importance of being honest if you’re asked to disclose your criminal record

Cautions and convictions stay on the Police National Computer for 100 years (they are never deleted), but they don’t always have to be disclosed. Many people don’t realise what might be on their criminal record but it’s important that you find this out before you start applying for jobs.

Legally, you only have to disclose your criminal record when asked, but many employers will ask at some point during the recruitment process. If your conviction is spent, you won’t need to disclose it for jobs covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). Likewise, if your caution/conviction is eligible for filtering (see here for more information on the filtering process) then there is no need for you to disclose it even if the job involves a standard or enhanced check.

So, what happens if you’re asked about a caution/conviction and you don’t disclose it? If it comes to light, maybe because an employer does a criminal records check, then:

  • The job offer may be revoked
  • If you’ve already started working, you may be dismissed or
  • You could be prosecuted and receive another conviction

Our helpline receives many calls from people who find themselves in this type of situation. Recently, we were contacted by someone who had been offered a job in a care home. They weren’t aware that they needed to disclose a caution which they’d received 3 years previously and were surprised when it appeared on their enhanced DBS. Despite trying to explain the circumstances of the caution to the Home Manager when they handed over the certificate, the job offer was withdrawn. The employer took the view that this should have been disclosed prior to any checks being carried out and felt that they’d been misled. Our client told us:-

I was totally oblivious to the fact that my caution would be on there. I totally forgot about it. I’m gutted. I really needed and wanted this job. What can I do?

Although the caution may not have been relevant to the job, the shock of seeing it on the certificate appears to have caused a knee jerk reaction from the employer. Who knows what the outcome would have been had the applicant disclosed it at interview or immediately upon being offered the job.

If you legally need to disclose your criminal record, it’s important that you are completely upfront and honest about it. An employer may ask you a range of questions about your record to help them make a decision about what, if any, risk you may pose.

Some tips to consider when disclosing your criminal record are:-

  • Know your criminal record really well so that you can talk about it confidently. If you don’t know what’s likely to show up then apply to the police for a Subject Access Request
  • Think in advance about the likely questions an employer may ask. Prepare your answers so that you can talk about your criminal record in the most positive way possible. Make notes which you can use if you think this may help you
  • Answer the employers questions directly and honestly. Try not to concentrate solely on all the negative circumstances surrounding your criminal record
  • Think about your body language – try not to come across as being too defensive
  • Practice with somebody you trust before you disclose to the employer

If an employer has a good understanding of the circumstances surrounding an offence, then they will be better placed to make an informed decision and may be willing to give you a ‘second chance’. However, as you can see from the above example, if an employer feels that you have tried to hide something from them, they may be loath to listen to any explanation that you offer at that time.

For more information

  1. Practical self-help information – More information on disclosing your criminal record to employers can be found here.
  2. Discuss the issue – Read and share your experiences on our online forum.




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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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